Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Postcard from Kabacuzi - 1

This is the kind of deluxe accommodation for our training. No glass in windows, and so draughty it blows everything off the walls. Minimal furniture, and uncomfortable for our audience after an hour or so. It's a parish room, so there's always a crucifix above the blackboard, and some taty, faded posters which are barely legible. (Reminding you how to calculate the area of a circle etc)
The standard Rwandan football, made of bananaleaves, bits of paper and plastic, and held together with banana leaf twine. This one had been confiscated and was lying in our classroom in the middle of stacks of roof tiles fresh from the brick kiln.

If you blow this picture up you can see our moto drivers under the acacia tree. I bet the families in the little houses on the right really bless the day they built their places on the edge of the school yard!

Couronnes of palm leaves. You find these everywhere. They're all the protection you have on your head when you're carrying heavy loads - e.g. a basket of bricks!

Sing along with Brucey Baby

The day they guarded my knickers with a shotgun!

May 27th

A thoroughly uneventful day today. Védaste and I are set to do an analysis of the secondary school census data. First we have to find it (on Béatrice’s computer, along with three viruses which my machine catches and kills).

Then we have to try to understand it – none of the grand totals match each other, and we have to do some creative thinking to understand what she’s done.

So I spent all day creating simple graphics. You may remember that we have 72000+ children in primary school. Well, we have 11000 in secondary schools, and loads of children in maternelles as well. The total school population is well over 90,000. The percentage of children going on to secondary school has risen from 8% to around 15% but is still far too low. Around 24% of primary children pass the end of year 6 exam and are entitled to go to secondary school, but there simply aren’t the places for them. In Muhanga we have two new lower secondary schools (tronc commun = Key Stage 3 only) just opening, but we need about another five. The only reason there isn’t a public scandal about the situation is because you have to pay to go to secondary school, and many families simply can’t afford to pay for more than one child to attend. So guess what – there are far more boys in the upper end of secondary schools than girls!

(Get off your soap box – Ed)

One of Védaste’s colleagues breezes in, sees my flash drive and borrows it without asking. When he brings it back there are 4 more viruses on it. By twelve o’clock I’m hungry. Védaste hasn’t got any money with him, so I feel obliged to take him out and treat him to lunch. No sign of Cathie – I take that as good news and that she’s already getting replies from her Canadian applications. I’ll find out on Thursday.

In the afternoon we pore over the figures again; this time we’re both getting tired and we find some serious errors in the figures themselves. (According to Béatrice’s data, our local secondary schools have as many teachers with Doctorate degrees as a small university….). By now its half past three and we pack it in for the day.

I take a moto to Shyogwe to see Stéphanie and arrive just before the end of school. I hide behind her new office so I don’t cause a major distraction, then get mobbed by the 2000+ children as they’re leaving. I shake hands and say hello to a hundred or so, then make a run for one of the classrooms.

With Stéphanie we discuss what she’s going to need in terms of teaching materials and equipment for the new classrooms; it’s very difficult doing this in a vacuum and while we can compile a wish list of what we’d like, we can’t price it up. But the Dutch need information quickly before they will release any of the money including the first 10,000 euros for the classrooms, so we’ve got to get a move on. We agree we’ll both talk to people and try to find out prices, and meet again next Monday.

I take a couple of pictures of her new office and staffroom which has just reached eaves level. There’s precarious looking scaffolding everywhere, and piles of sand and bricks dumped in the school yard for the children to jump in at playtimes.

By now it’s getting dark. I take a taxi vélo to the main road by which time night has completely fallen. There are no lights on in Nix’s bungalow at the orphanage as we pass. Her brother has been staying, up from Johannesburg, but has caught malaria while he’s been in Shyogwe. Poor old Nix, she’s having to look after a very sick brother. Shouldn’t happen to anyone!

Get home absolutely tired out at half past six after a two mile walk along the main road. Tom’s cooking again; I feel very guilty about not doing my share!

After tea we walk round to Karen’s house to pick up our laundry. (Long story; two heavy bags of clothes which Tom dropped off at Karen’s because they were too heavy to bring home on his moto). Good idea to walk because we’ve pigged out on fruit salad and mandazis and need the exercise! Get to Karen’s to find not only the two deaf girls there but also Christi and all her family. Our clean knickers are in their hired car, parked outside my bank, being looked after by two bank guards with shotguns!

An hour later, after chatting and being given another pile of DVDs to watch (Karen has a relative who writes reviews for magazines of DVDs and gets complimentary copies ahead of release on condition that they’re never sent anywhere else….) we all trudge up the hill to the car, pay off the guards, and collect our laundry. It weighs a ton!

By then it’s too late to do anything else but slump in our armchairs and read for half an hour before bed.

Best thing about today – getting a slippery hold on the secondary data.

Worst thing – we still haven’t completely finished any of our work!

Working overtime

May 26th

Can’t summon up much enthusiasm for going into work today. I’m still avoiding making the harder decisions and awkward phone calls that I need to do.

Fiddle around for an hour trying to make a presentation for Claude about the redoublement problem. I know what the answers are – standardise the end of year tests across the secteurs, ban children having to repeat the same year more than once, and give them some support in classes or breakfast or twilight extra lessons. None of which are going to be palatable to my colleagues.

Some of the repetition rates are so high I have to go back to the census forms because I’m worried I’ve made a mistake in transcription. Find one mistake, but only one. So Kadehero primary really does have 73% of all its first year students repeating the year, and Mata primary, where we did a training the other day, has 41% of the entire school repeating years. Its crazy – if they tried to do this in England there’d be a national scandal!

I also get the translation of my presentation into French almost done. I know I’m producing some clumsy turns of phrase, and things which I could wing if I was speaking are so much harder when I’m writing them. Why did I sleep through all my “A” level lessons on agreements…..? But it’s hard vocabulary. (You just try writing phrases like “How are decisions made on which schools have new buildings, and how equitable and transparent is the system for deciding building programmes?” into fluent and colloquial French)!

I ring Stéphanie out at Shyogwe; I need to go there and see her about getting more detailed proposals for the Randstad rebuilding project, and the end of the afternoon seems a good time to go.

It’s a cold and windy morning; there’s a howling draught blowing through the office and everyone getting sneezes and sniffles. Just like home! Venantie’s back from her leave; she’s had her hair braided and looks quite different. I had to do a double take before I recognised her!

Have lunch with Cathie, who’s very excited and wants to talk. It’s the first day that teaching jobs in her part of Canada can be offered to external applicants, and she’s already applied for five of them on line during the morning. None of them are ideal – all the plum jobs have already gone to internal applicants – but they’ll be a foothold for her when she returns and she can move on as soon as she finds something better. The system is very regimented. The Canadian schools have to respond to her applications by Thursday. I just hope they won’t suddenly decide to do a telephone interview right when we’re supposed to be doing training at Rugendabari on Thursday morning!

Then in the afternoon who should appear in the office but Védaste, the statistician, who’s been on a disappearing act for days at a time. He returns my flash disk as a peace offering! We go up to his office, and he likes what I’ve done in terms of my presentation. However, he wants not just to improve my French, but to fiddle around with the order of slides and alter some of the comments. I’ve got no problem with any of that, but he’s a slow and clumsy operator on a keyboard, and it takes forever. Even by 6.00 we’re still not quite finished, and we’ve done two and a half hours overtime! It’s the longest day I’ve done at the office for months. It’s dark when we walk home. He walks with me as far as the University where his wife is in the first year of a management course. I’m not quite sure who’s looking after their little baby because both sets of parents live somewhere up in the Rongi direction.

I’ve had to put off Stéphanie for another day; must see her before the end of Wednesday or the Dutch crowd will be getting angry!

Back home I collapse in a heap in one of the armchairs while Tom does the cooking.

Well, I’ve earned my keep today!

Heat and Dust in Nyamata

May 25th

Els decides she wants to go to Kigali and internet home, so she leaves first thing. Until recently they have had a wireless internet facility in Nyamata which meant they had the best connections of any VSOs outside the capital. But the office which provided the wireless connection was moved, and the owner of the internet café can’t get his act together and spend the capital to replace it. So he loses everybody’s custom but just shrugs it off as inevitable…..

Marisa and I go for a walk to see the town. It absolutely scorching hot, even at 9 in the morning. Marisa’s only doing an eight month placement. So she’s back to Canada at the end of August. She’s concerned about how she’ll fare in the hot and dusty months ahead.

There’s some sort of religious revivalist preacher in town; last night he was holding forth from a marquee on the edge of the playing field; today is Sunday and he’s installed in a church. This is a new church – the old church in Nyamata is one of the most notorious genocide sites in the country. Hundreds of people were shot as they huddled inside the church for protection. The church is now a museum; bullet holes pockmark the walls and the victims’ skeletons are preserved to remind people of what happened. Unfortunately the church is closed today because it’s a special Catholic Feast Day and there are all sorts of processions taking place.

I’m not sure what the name of the religious event is; I think it’s something like “Holy Sacrament Day”. In some places people have made patterns with flower petals in the dust of the paths; pictures the size of table tops. It’s difficult to sort out what’s happening because there seem to be 4 things all going on at once. There’s a group of Intoré drummers performing somewhere in the distance. There are huge crowds turning up to listen to the visiting revivalist. There’s this Holy Sacrament Day which seems to be especially favoured for first communions; little girls are everywhere dressed in white “wedding dresses”; boys in natty waistcoats with brand new rosaries round their necks. And it’s “Liberation Day” to mark the day in 1994 when the RPF troops finally chased out the “ancien régime” and the reign of arbitrary terror came to an end. People are walking in the hot sun to the top of a hill about a mile out of town. I’m told you can see into Burundi from the top of the hill but it’s too fierce out in the sun and there’ll be no shade. And anyway, we’re not dressed for any sort of formal occasion.

We keep bumping into work colleagues of Marisa. Because Nyamata is so much smaller than Gitarama she seems to know a lot more people than me. We walk through one of her school yards; the outside walls are used as teaching aids with pictures of human anatomy and maps of Africa and Rwanda in bright colours. What a good idea – passive learning using blank walls. I take a load of pictures to show my colleagues in Muhanga.

With so many festivals going on it’s no surprise to find just about everywhere is closed; by mid morning even the buses have stopped running. We drift back home – it’s too hot to go on walking outside – and relax for an hour. Then I pack up all my stuff and we go back into town; fortunately there’s a good café which is just opening and we eat well in a shady booth in a quiet little courtyard.

I take leave of Marisa and bag a decent seat on a sweltering bus and eventually we return to Kigali. We cross the big river, here labelled as the Akagera, which meanders through a wide valley full of papyrus grass and swamp grass. The old Bailey bridge is being replaced by a brand new concrete structure, but they haven’t quite finished the approach roads yet so we swing off the road and bump along a rutted track to the old bridge. This bridge is single lane, which in Rwanda means whoever’s got the biggest vehicle takes precedence. There are no lorries to be seen, so we clank and clatter across and all too soon we’re back in Kigali.

I just want to get back home, so go straight to the Atraco depot. Here I find there are no fewer than 9 other muzungus on the bus with me. Some are with an Australian rugby team visiting Rwanda; others can speak some Kinya and clearly are working here, though whereabouts they are in Gitarama is a mystery to me. On the way home we see a group baptism taking place in a river – total immersion in the middle of the rice fields! Not quite the river Jordan, but it’ll do for Rwanda!

Back home it’s time to relax and doze until we all go out to Tranquillité for the usual Sunday night meal and chat. I even start planning an itinerary for when Teresa and co come out to visit me at the end of July.

Best thing about today – it’s nice to be back in cool, bustling Gitarama! Nyamata is fine for a visit, but I’m very happy to be placed where I am!

Way Down South, Close to the Border!

May 24th

Down the town early to the internet café, and hooray! – the power is on and the connection is working. Send the latest lot of blogs; catch up on email and send a special letter to Teresa. Today is our 33rd wedding anniversary and I want to make sure she knows I haven’t forgotten her. I just get well into sending the latest batch of photos from our training sessions at Nyarusange and Kabacuzi when the power goes off. So that’s the end of internetting for today!

Up to the post office before it gets too hot, and lo and behold there’s another newspaper waiting for me. Walk back to the market relishing the prospect of a good read with a nice cup of tea, sitting out on the balcony and forgetting I’m in Africa for an hour. I nip into the Office since it’s almost next door to the Post Office, and discover there’s a huge new pile of text books come in. A lot of secondary English books, this time produced for schools across the whole of East Africa and not specifically for Rwanda. There are teachers’ guides for them, too. So I take one of each and stuff them into my rucksack; I’ll have a look through them when I get home.

But first it’s to the market to collect my second shirt. The girl hasn’t quite finished it, so I have to wait around for ten minutes while she finishes off a couple of seams and snips off all the excess fabric. She works amazingly fast. By this time there’s a crowd of ten or so people, adults and children, just staring at us. I suppose it’s the first time they’ve ever seen a muzungu having clothes made in the market. At the same time every clothes seller within ten yards is trying to sell me jeans, belts etc – all second hand stuff from charity shops. Second hand jeans, with a bit of obvious wear in them, are prized possessions here. More so than immaculate denims which (in order to be cheap enough for people to be able to afford) are always rip-offs from Taiwan or China. That’s Rwandan fashion logic for you – better a second hand pair of real levis than a brand new pair of imitation wranglers!

Eventually the seamstress takes me into one of the little clothes stalls where there’s a rudimentary fitting room and a mirror. The shirt seems to fit OK; the neckline is lower than on a western shirt so there’s some very white skin and grey chest hairs showing, but they’ll get taken care of by the African sun in a matter of days!

I decide to keep the shirt on and wear it home, and as I leave the clothes stalls I get a cheer from the other women, about thirty all told, who are all working on their sewing machines or just stopping to gossip.

By this time Marisa’s texted me and our meeting time at Kigali has been put back a couple of hours. It means I can have the luxury of a quiet read of my paper and a cup of tea on the balcony!

In the afternoon I get a bus straight away to Kigali so I’m there earlier than I planned. I have a mooch round the town centre and eventually weaken and buy a wall poster map of Rwanda from one of the street hawkers. I’ve thought about getting one for some time; I might even send it home so that Teresa and the others have a bigger map to use to follow my wanderings. The trouble is, that every map you see of Rwanda misses out some places and puts in others on an arbitrary basis. This map leaves out Nyanza altogether – and Nyanza’s the equivalent of a county town – but puts in a couple of big villages close to it. I just don’t understand the logic.

In town I bump into Irene from the Gihembe refugee camp, and then Marisa herself. We decide to get an earlier bus out to Nyamata, so fortunately it’s still daylight as we drive into new territory for me!

Once again (you’re probably bored with me saying this by now), as soon as you leave Kigali in this direction (due South) the landscape changes. It gets a lot flatter, and a hell of a lot hotter. But the biggest change is in the vegetation. All the way I from Gitarama there’s not a square yard of land left unused. Everything is down to food crops, or to trees for firewood on steep slopes or roadside verges. Here in the south, there is empty land. Just scrub, with occasional farms in the most favoured places. Acacia trees dot the landscape, but there’s a lot of bare soil visible around individual bushes. It looks dry and dusty and we’re still in the rainy season!

There’s a history to all this. Until very recently nobody wanted to live in this part of Rwanda – it’s the least favoured part of the country. There are large areas of swamp where the Nyaborongo river flows into a series of lakes and then leaves them as the Akagera river on its way to Egypt. The swamps are very malarial. Many have been drained for farming within the last twenty or so years, but others remain. The climate is hot, dusty, dry – who would choose to live there when you could have the cool heights of Gitarama or the south west? There were wild animals around up to the size of elephants until they rounded them up and moved them all into Akagera National Park. There are snakes, too (though neither Marisa nor Els have seen one in 5 months there).

So the Government of the day decided it would be a cool idea to forcibly deport thousands of Tutsis from the rest of Rwanda into either settler homes for those who went willingly, or concentration camps for those who protested. The logic was that they would either open up this area for habitation, or die of famine. If the latter, then it didn’t matter because they were only Tutsis and one dead Tutsi means more land and food for the Hutus.

The deportees managed to survive, until later on, in February and March 1994, the area became the test bed for the plans of genocide. With a huge concentration of Tutsis, very few Hutus, and almost no roads in and out of the area, you could hone your skills at killing thousands of people without the rest of the country knowing about it. And that’s just what happened.

Fourteen years on, the town of Nyamata still has a Wild West feeling to it. The side roads are like something out of a Hollywood film set. They look flimsy and temporary, as though a good wind would blow them over. The main road through the town is brand new, tarmac covered, and well graded. This is because it’s the road to the new airport being built with American money, to serve both as the new international airport for Rwanda but also as an American military air base and the centre of a huge American military camp.

The existing international airport is too small and too close to the housing areas of the city; it’s an accident waiting to happen.

The Americans want to move into Rwanda because they see it as the ideal power base from which to control their interests in East Africa, and because they’re worried about the influence China is exerting in the region. Having been bombed out of their embassy in Nairobi they feel Rwanda, with its tightly controlled society, is a safer haven for their staff and troops.

Sooner or later, though, I’m sure there will be a major global stand-off between America and China, and East Africa could well be the flashpoint. And it could all come within twenty years or so.

The side roads in Nyamata are wide and unpaved; everywhere there’s a feeling of space, of new-ness, of temporary-ness. Old buildings are being torn down and replaced by grander ones, so some people, at least, are thriving here.

We cross a football field devoid of a single blade of grass, and with a row of electricity pylons along one side of it, and then dive down a grid of streets where all the houses have hedges of succulents. Marisa and Els’ house is in the middle of a residential area and about as far removed from our flat at Gitarama as it’s possible to be. There’s no traffic at all; you can’t even hear traffic on the main road half a mile away. There are swarms of little children, who rush up to greet us and have a hug, and older children who come up and ask me for money.

The house is a huge bungalow. There are five bedrooms, a kitchen, a lounge and bathroom where nothing works because every single tap, and blocked off water pipe, is leaking water all over the floor as soon as the mains are turned on. Washing up is done at an outside tap in the back yard. The yard is enclosed, and there’s a further range of buildings – two decent sized rooms and at least two smaller rooms – which seem to have been intended as quarters for servants. The best feature of the house is a shady veranda at the front, with a row of massive pot plants. Like most Rwandan houses, the place hasn’t been finished off; there’s no front gate and there are gaps in the brick wall where somebody intended to put either decorative metal grilles or bamboo screens, but these have not been done. Outside, on the edge of the street, there’s a pile of unused bricks, sand, and gravel for making concrete.

However, the electricity and water are both on, so we set to making our evening meal. Marisa and Els use an electric hotplate for cooking; it’s not as efficient as our gas cooker but miles better than using charcoal or paraffin. Els has tried her hand at making bread, but has encountered the same problems as me. The stuff is edible, just, but like mine it has an aftertaste. We wonder if it’s something in the flour we’re using. The girls have acquired a bottle of urwagwa – banana beer. It’s 15o proof – stronger than wine – and tastes like vinegar. Very much an acquired taste, and I think we’ll all three be sticking to the Primus beer for the immediate future. (Though I notice that Els has developed a taste for Waragi – our East African gin)!

After tea we chat and share music files among our laptops. Outside it’s thundering and raining. A huge cockroach appears in the lounge, so I thump it with a book. There are massive ants a centimetre long. After the rain we get invaded by the huge flying ants like we had at Gitarama – they look scary but don’t do any harm. But rain plus flying ants means it’s time for bed. I’m on the floor, on a mattress, but with a mosquito net and I just hope the assorted cockroaches, ants, snakes etc won’t discover me tonight!

Best thing about today – my new shirt (both the girls think it’s OK); going somewhere new and seeing different scenery.
Worst thing about today – nothing at all. It’s been a good day!

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Postcard from Kabacuzi - 2

I never thought the day would come when I allowed a picture of myself singing "The Wheels on the Bus...."
"The weepers on the buz go sweesh, sweesh, sweesh"

Isn't it supposed to be the children doing the work and the teachers who are overseeing them?

Inside the church at Kabacuzi (see blog for May 23rd for comments)

One of my best pictures from Rwanda. Taken during lunchtime, when we were mobbed by children from Kabacuzi school. Cathie did an impromptu song and dance routine and got the children to join in. Look at the expression on the faces of the girls in the middle. To me this picture absolutely sums up all that VSO is about.

The main classroom block at Nyarusange - the longest row of classrooms you're ever likely to see!
Morning mist burning off in the distant valleys - the view from the school yard at Nyarusange

1,800 children line up to sing the national anthem. In the background is Nyarusange secondary school.

A typical classroom at Nyarusange, Well built and in good condition.

Teaching poster on the classroom wall. If you double click on this you should be able to enlarge it enough to read the pictures on the poster!

There was no glass in the windows so we couldn't trace our teaching pictures; here the teachers are copying freehand on to the rice sacks we have just given them.

Motor cycling in the rain isn't much fun!

May 24th

Up before dawn this morning, and not helped by having accidentally set the alarm an hour too early! It’s a grey, cold morning and it looks as though it’s going to rain before long.

Our macho day guard is wearing his pink tee-shirt again; this time I notice he has the previous owner’s name – “Stephanie” – emblazoned across his back. I reckon it’s the tee-shirt Stephanie wore for her hen night, or something similar!

We’re off training again (seventh out of twelve sessions), and this time we are in Kabacuzi which is decidedly up-country. The first half of the journey, on big motor bikes, is fast and smooth. Then we turn off on an endless run along bumpy tracks. We contour in and out round hillsides for a while, with green views through narrow valleys; then there’s an endless descent down into a deep valley where women are washing clothes and fetching water from a small stream. They glower at us as we pass; our bikes will muddy their water for a while. The valleys get even narrower, with dense woods planted in places where the soil is too poor or the slope too extreme for cultivation.

We reach a hamlet and the drivers stop to ask for directions. The only available people to ask are a bunch of school children; and they point the way to their school. This involves a hair raising ascent up rock outcrops; we just about manage to stay on our bikes, which are jolting and skidding across smooth, polished rock. We finally splutter to a halt in the school yard, whereupon a very surprised head teacher explains that we’ve come to Buramba primary. The training is at Kabacuzi primary. I think the school children gave us the right directions; the drivers just assumed that “the school” they were referring to was the one we wanted to reach!

So back on the bikes, and this time down all the hair raising bits. It’s no easier going downhill, either. Finally, after an hour and a half, we reach Kabacuzi. This is a poverty stricken area, and truly rural. It makes places like Nyarusange (yesterday) feel positively suburban! Many children are barefoot, and many others don’t have uniform. They’re wearing the usual western cast-offs which have come to them via charity shops.

The room we’re using is a church hall, which has doubled for years as an overflow classroom for the school. The walls are bare brick; there’s not a pane of glass in any window, and a cold wind is howling through the place. Fortunately I’ve worn my fleece today; I’m slowly getting the hang of reading the Rwandan weather and coming dressed accordingly!

The teachers are all pretty young, and nowhere near as fluent as yesterday’s bunch. But by the time we launch into Old Macdonald’s Farm, complete with animal noises and gestures, they’re on side and warmed up. The teaching games go well, too, though I trip over my feet in one game and go flying head first into the sand of the school yard.

In a store room behind the parish room there’s a really huge intoré drum. I can’t resist giving it a bash, and the noise makes the whole building echo and brings Cathie in to see what’s going on!

We always end our sessions by giving the teachers an hour or so to copy pictures onto rice sacks which they can then use as teaching materials. With no glass in the windows they can’t possibly trace these, so they take them out into the yard. In the yard there’s the big parish church, and they lay out their sheets on the church porch and copy them freehand. Meanwhile the school has stopped for lunchtime, and immediately there’s about three hundred children coming to see what the muzungus and other visitors are doing. (Each of these training sessions is for around 8 or 9 schools; about 16-18 teachers). It’s a very photogenic place and I take several snaps; Cathie also takes some of me doing exciting things like teaching “The Wheels on the Bus go Round and Round”.

While we wait for the teachers to finish their pictures we have a quick look inside the church. The seats are benches made of stone and concrete – let’s hope the services are shorter than at our Presbyterian Church in Gitarama. Three hours on solid concrete would finish me off! And, as in the Gihembe refugee camp chapel, there’s no source of music in the church, but yet another drum strategically placed just in front of the altar. Otherwise the church is remarkably plain; there’s nothing to distract worshippers except for a single statue of the virgin and Christ child on a plinth against one wall. But what’s really striking is that this church, like the one at Cyeza, is swung round 90 degrees on its axis so that it much wider than it is long. It’s completely the opposite from your average English parish church. There’s also no chancel. The altar projects out into the main part of the church so that a service is “in the round”. It’s a beautifully simple and inclusive way of designing a church. It makes the church I go to in Gitarama seem very stuffy and old fashioned.

Meanwhile our moto drivers have been waiting five hours for us because it’s not worth their petrol to return to Gitarama. They’re snoozing under a big acacia tree in the school yard until it starts spitting with rain, and also fending off little boys who want to fiddle with the bike controls. When we eventually finish our training (I’ve brought a bag of sweeties to give to our trainees as a reward), the moto drivers are impatient to get back on the road. And with good reason – we haven’t been going for more than twenty minutes when it starts to rain.

Within another ten minutes it’s pouring with rain and blowing a gale – the strongest winds since I arrived in Rwanda. The hills are covered in mist; it’s freezing cold; the rain is coming horizontally. You’d think you were in Snowdonia, not on the Equator! I can’t wear my glasses under my helmet; my visor’s all fogged up and covered with raindrops, so I don’t see much of the scenery on the way back. We arrive back at the flat wet through on our legs and sleeves. The only consolation is that the moto drivers are even wetter.

Both the Rwandan countryside and the Rwandan people seem to deflate immediately it starts raining. Everyone huddles under cover and looks pathetic as though the rain is some strange phenomenon that has never happened before, and so they don’t know how to cope with it. All the road building crews along the main road are hunched under trees, their tools and wheelbarrows abandoned in the middle of the road so that all traffic has to slalom along in the mud.

During the afternoon it pours steadily for a couple of hours. As soon as their rain stops there’s a frantic flurry of activity as people rush to the market to buy food before the traders go home.

Tom’s not back till late, so I make a meal of leftovers for me and the guard – just for once it seems to work out very tasty! Things must be looking up in the kitchen department!

Best thing about today - the ride out to Kabacuzi. Rwandan countryside at its best.

Worst thing about today - the ride back from Kabacuzi.

A lift with the Ambassador

May 22nd

Up at the crack of dawn; another training day. As time goes on and we get further and further away from Gitarama we’ll have to be up earlier and earlier to get to our venues on time; eventually we’ll be rising well before dawn. Yesterday’s late night after the football hasn’t helped me to get cracking, either. I meet up with Cathie in the bus park before 7.00; we think we can get a matata to Nyarusange because the training is at the big primary school on the main road to Kibuye.

As it turns out, our luck’s in; there’s a bus almost ready to leave. We cram inside; everybody on board’s fascinated that two muzungus are going to a big village in the middle of nowhere. The road is twisty and hilly; we’re jolted all round the bus and although it’s only about 15km away from Gitarama, we’re mightily relieved to get there in one piece.

The school stands on a narrow hilltop, and the views are lovely even by Rwandan standards. The hillsides are too steep for much farming, so they’re forested with eucalypts for firewood. The valleys are full of mist which is rising and burning off as we wait for our trainees to arrive. If I could wade through the hordes of kids I could take some lovely pictures, but by the time I get a chance the sun has risen too high and the light’s all wrong. Another time, perhaps!

Nyarusange primary school is another giant like Shyogwe and Kivumu – 1800+ children. It stands right next to the main road and the buildings tremble when lorries pass through. On the other side of the road is the big secondary school. This is a very common arrangement in Rwanda; the ensemble of maternelle, primary and secondary always referred to as “Groupe Scolaire (+ name of the place). The main teaching block is a spectacularly long building which seems to go on for ever. As usual we’re mobbed by over a thousand children on arrival; as usual there are ones who seem terrified of us and hover in the background; other ones who are brash and confident and want us to acknowledge them, shake their hand, speak to them. But the majority just want to crowd round and stare and stare at these apparitions which have descended on their school.

At 8.00 a drum beats loudly and the children slowly disperse. They’re all being summoned to a level piece of ground to sing the national anthem. It’s an impressive sight to see 1800 children all in symmetrical rows (like our children during a fire drill), and all singing. It’s quite melodic and tuneful, too. The anthem is long; the words and melody are tricky to remember, but they do it well. I’m surprised they don’t do the whole American thing with saluting the flag. Finally there’s a couple of short prayers (it’s a catholic school), and notices, and nearly 2000 children disappear inside their rooms within three minutes – pursued by their teachers with switches to encourage any dawdlers!

The training session goes very well; the teachers are a mixture of ages. Some have quite good English, but one man in particular can barely string two words together. We discover that he’s teaching in 6ème – i.e. the final year of primary and the year in which there’s frantic cramming for the end of primary exam. It’s the equivalent of someone who can barely speak English being employed to prepare kids for KS2 SATS in Dorset. His children just don’t stand an earthly chance.

When we finish and finally manage to get away, we have to get ourselves home. We haven’t arranged transport back because we think if we wait around for a while there’ll be a matata passing. But our luck’s even better this time. I stick my hand out to hitch a lift, and the very first vehicle that passes stops for us.

Inside is the former Rwandan ambassador to half of Western Europe, and his driver. The Ambassador’s a charming man, speaking perfect French. He’s a product of the very first secondary school for Rwandans at Butare. He’s met the Queen (plus the royalty of Belgium, Holland and Sweden), plus one or two popes, and we chatter away happily as we drive home. He’s pleased we are in his country, and despite being elderly he’s remarkably aware of the grass-roots issues we’re dealing with in the schools. A lovely man, gracious and generous. He insists on dropping us outside my flat. Unlike half of Rwanda, he doesn’t just assume that we’re either married to each other or a father-daughter combination, and he’s fascinated to discover how we come to be working with each other.

It’s seriously hot now each mid-day, and we’re both wilting. Cathie goes home and I doze off on the bed for a couple of hours. I just have time to raid the market, and then cook up supper. I can’t remember whether Tom’s coming home tonight or not (he’s gone to Butare to meet suppliers), so I cook for three and keep some back for him. He texts to say he’s staying over in Butare, and possibly Friday night too, so I’ve got my supper for tomorrow ready in the fridge! Rice, spicy tomato sauce, and mixed veg with a cheesy topping. By my standards it’s quite edible!

I’m still feeling tired, so the evening’s spent blogging and listening to music. Tomorrow is an even earlier start.

Best thing about today – everything, really: another good day; we feel we’ve achieved something and our training has been appreciated. When that happens to you, it really does make you feel ten feet tall!

Worst thing about today – nothing. Bring ‘em on!

"A Canteen for every Primary School". Discuss....


As well as giving you another French lesson, this is a good example of the kind of joined-up, ambitious planning document that comes from Kigali. If this proposal were to come off, it would result in a huge improvement in the well being of our rural communities here in Muhanga.

To put this in perspective, of my 72,320 primary school children in Muhanga, only around 200 have a school meal at lunchtime and many of the poorest have nothing at all to eat at mid-day.

Extract from “La Nouvelle Relève” du 12 mai 2008.

« Les cantines Scolaires dans l’amélioration du niveau de vie des populations »

L’éducation est considérée par le Gouvernement Rwandais comme une priorité des programmes de lutte contre la pauvreté. L’objectif no 1 de développement du millénaire consiste à éliminer, d’ici 2015, la faim et la malnutrition de 30% de la population en augmentant la production, l’accès et l’utilisation des nourritures nutritives dans les ménages, et en améliorent le statut alimentaire des femmes enceintes, des mères nourricières et des enfants de bas âges.

C’est dans cette perspective que le Ministère de l’Education en collaboration avec les partenaires, entre autre le MINAGRI, MINALOC, PAM, FAO, l’UNICEF…. Veut développer un programme national d’alimentation scolaire. Ce programme va couvrir deux aspects principaux : l’alimentation scolaire et le développement intégré visant l’autosuffisance des écoles et l’amélioration des conditions de vie de la population environnant l’école.

Dans son discours, Madame la Représentante du PAM, a signalé que l’objectif principal est d’accroître la capacité nationale à exercer leurs compétences et les rendre capables d’assumer la maîtrisage de l’ouvrage du processus de pérennisation des cantines scolaires afin de pouvoir encadrer et aider les communautés villageoises qui le souhaitent à s’approprier le fonctionnement de leur cantine scolaire, à la fois dans son approvisionnement et son mode de gestion.

« Changeons la façon de faire et de voir les choses » a dit Justin Nsengiyumva, Secrétaire Général du Ministère d’Education. « Nous devons apprendre à nos enfants et à leur permettre de savoir tout ce qui concerne l’agriculture et l’élevage. Nous devons aussi les préparer à s’autogérer afin d’éviter la mauvaise habitude, celle d’attendre toujours les aides extérieurs. Cela les aidera plus tard à se prendre en charge » a-t-il ajouté.

Les parents doivent être impliques dans ce programme. Ils devraient gérer eux-mêmes ces cantines afin que les écoles puissent s’autogérer.

Le Secrétaire Général a expliqué que le programme changera les attitudes des parents et des enfants. Il donnera aussi du travail aux gens environnants.

Le but principal du programme national intégré d’alimentation scolaire est d’améliorer le niveau et la qualité de vie des populations dans le cadre d’un développement local fondé sur le processus de pérennisation des cantines scolaires en faisant de l’école un vecteur du développement local.

Dans ce but, on s’attachera plus particulièrement à :
Promouvoir le développement et l’auto suffisance des cantines scolaires ;
Renforcer les mécanismes et les dispositifs et outils d’intervention permettant d’impulser une dynamique de planification décentralisée et participative, en articulation avec le processus de décentralisation en cours avec une attention particulière au Secteur/Umurenge /Umugudugu comme échelon le plus proche ;
Promouvoir le développement des activités agro-vétérinaires sur les terrains des écoles dans le but d’aider les enfants à devenir les fermiers de demain, et de contribuer à l’autofinancement des écoles ;
Améliorer le taux de scolarisation et de rétention dans l’enseignement primaire ;
Réduire la prévalence de la malnutrition et d’infestation intestinale chez les enfants de l’enseignement primaire ;
Inciter les communautés à l’intensification de la production vivrière en créant et/ou en renforçant les circuits de commercialisation des produits locaux.

The day I became a Man United fan!

May 21st

A really chilly morning. Down to the internet cafe at half past seven. This time the connection’s working, I’m the only person there, and the system works like a dream. Why couldn’t it have been like this on Saturday? I even remember to create an anniversary card and send it to Teresa! Whew!

However, when I arrive at the office it’s one of those days when the place is deserted and I can’t summon up any energy to work. I find another article in French in the Government newspaper, this time about plans to put canteens in every primary school as a means of improving child nutrition and at the same time stimulating the local economies. I’ve copied the important parts in French and will post it as a separate blog, so if anyone of you fancies improving your French………

Karen comes in to the office; she’s just collected her green card for her second year. We end up chatting for a long time about the issues for handicapped children raised in the census data. No answers, but as a side issue she’s set my mind to thinking about how to reduce the number of children made to repeat years in our schools (and cluttering up the lower years in particular).

Off to lunch with Cathie; she gives me a bunch of rice sacks to use to make my own wall posters for training sessions. Then we go to the market and find the same seamstress who made my first African shirt, and haggle about a second one. Another RwF3,000; ready on Saturday. I’m sure I’ve been overcharged, but Cathie says Elson paid that much to have one made so I don’t feel quite so bad. And this girl is certainly competent; we take one of Elson’s shirts in as a template and the girl is dismissive about the quality of stitching on it. She actually grabs a passer by to show me how the stitching should be done! Instead of an English style in African material, this will be a proper African shirt – collarless and button-less, with two pockets and fancy stitching along the seams.

Then back to the District office via the bank (time to pay for another month of Janine’s cleaning and laundry). At the office I realise that why I’m not actually doing anything today is because I’m putting off two difficult jobs – planning inspection visits and translating my census stuff into French.

Cathie’s suggested I have both English and French copies of the census stuff, and by going home time I’ve got about half of it translated. But I’m sure my translation is full of holes, and that the primary heads will pick on the grammar and vocab errors and ignore the real content, so I need to get someone like Épi who has French as their first language to go through and correct my bétises. That might take awhile!

Back at the flat I get stuck into ironing, including gently ironing my piece of batik cloth from yesterday. Unfortunately somebody has stored it by folding it, and there are straight lines in the wax along the creases. I don’t think it spoils the effect unless you look very close up, but it’s taught me to look carefully at any future pieces for flaws of that sort.

We dine early, including a lovely smoothie made from raspberries and yoghurt (who says we can’t be inventive here in Rwanda?); then it’s off to the cultural centre to watch Man United Play Chelsea. Rwandans are obsessed with English football, and the place is packed out. I couldn’t care who wins; it’s just fun to watch half the men in Gitarama letting off steam. The atmosphere’s electric right from the start. There’s half an hour of pre-match twaddle with loads of talking heads, but every time a picture of one of their heroes flashes on screen there’s huge cheering. Drogba, Ronaldo, and any African player are all big favourites.

Janine’s there and has saved us seats. So are Ward and Marin. Janine’s an ardent Manchester United fan; she’s so prim and proper most of the time that it’s quite a revelation to see her let her hair down!

The match is a draw at full time; then there’s extra time; then there’s penalty shootouts which go on for ever. My backside is aching on the hard seats. It’s hot and sweaty inside the room; there must be well over a thousand people crammed inside, peering in the windows. The guy’s charged RwF500 a pop and has made a fortune, but we’ve had really good value for money from the game.

Eventually Manchester wins; the fans in the hall erupt, and everybody makes for the exits. Janine’s beside herself with excitement and gives me a huge smacker of a kiss because I said I didn’t like Chelsea. (Well, I don’t. I didn’t have the heart to also tell her I couldn’t care tuppence for either team. I’ll do anything for a kiss from a pretty girl…).

Unbelievable chaos in the car park; everyone’s impatient; nobody makes way for anyone and the only thing which saves us from accidents is that they’re all so gridlocked that nobody can move at more than a shuffle whether they’re on foot, motos or in cars or taxibuses.

It’s the first time I’ve been on a moto at night. With my glasses in my pocket it makes the whole town seem like a fairground ride – bright lights whizzing past and no concrete feeling of where you are.

By the time we throw ourselves into bed it’s gone midnight – unheard of debauchery on a weekday night – and I have an early start the next day!

Best thing about today – the footie. Rwandan men at their best. No fighting; no nastiness, but real passion about the game and their teams. Supporters of both teams sitting in amongst each other and chatting together. No alcohol, all the macho Africans downing bottle after bottle of coke and sprite! If only Man Utd and Chelsea could see the depth of loyalty they’ve inspired here in Rwanda!

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Sex education and the campaign against teenage AIDS


Extract from « La Nouvelle Relève » de 21 avril 2008

« L’usage du préservatif : les parents s’en tiennent aux mœurs »

La campagne toute récente de la Commission Nationale de Lutte contre le Sida (CCNLS) et du Ministère de la Santé à propos de l’usage du préservatif par les enfants, a suscite les débats houleux. La Nouvelle Relève s’est approchée des parents pour s’enquérir de leurs avis.

Le fléau du Sida, les grossesses non désirées et les maladies sexuellement transmissibles ont poussé le Minisanté et la CNLS ainsi que d’autres organismes intéressées par ces problèmes, à entreprendre une campagne de sensibilisation des parents sur l’éducation sexuelle. Ainsi, la 1ère phase de cette campagne avait pour objectif d’encourager les parents à dialoguer avec leurs enfants au sujet des rapports sexuels. Les parents avec qui nous sommes entretenus ont soutenu cette idée parce que, disent-ils, les enfants ont besoin des explications suffisantes dans le domaine de la sexualité. La majorité des parents ont souligne qu’un tel dialogue profiterait beaucoup aux plus jeunes filles qui deviennent enceintes précocement après avoir cru aux propos mensongers de leurs partenaires sexuelles

La seconde phase « witegereza » (n’attends pas apprend-moi à dire non et à respecter le non de mon amie), exhortait les parents à enseigner à leurs filles de dire « non » aux propos relatifs aux rapports sexuels de leurs amis, et à apprendre aux garçons à respecter le « non » de leurs amies. Cette idée a été bien accueillie par les parents. Ces derniers ont même soutenu que les garçons doivent respecter ce refus qui, non seulement prévient le Sida et les grossesses non désirées, mais aussi permet les valeurs morales.

La dernière phase de campagne « n’attend pas, apprendre moi à utiliser le condom », visa à faire appel aux parents à apprendre aux enfants comment utiliser le préservatif en guise de protection contre tous ces maux ci haut évoques.

La Nouvelle Relève s’est rendu dans le District de Nyamagabe, en Province du Sud, et a pu s’entretenir avec certains parents à ce sujet.

« Moi, je suis incapable d’apprendre à mes enfants l’usage du préservatif, je pense que c’est dans ce sens que je les incite automatiquement au libertinage sexuel. Pour moi, ce serait lui accorder la permission de faire des rapports sexuels alors que peut-être avant, il n’avait aucune idée de cela ! » a dit un certain Munyanshongore, paysan dudit District. Kamuhanda, Denys a, quant à lui, précisé : « moi-même, depuis ma naissance, je n’ai jamais utilisé ce truc, comment vais-je le montrer à mes enfants ? A moins que je sois fou pour oser même faire ça! Que cette tache soit confiée aux médecins ou aux enseignants, si no pour nous simples paysans, c’est une autre problème ! Son assertion a été soutenue par plusieurs autres individus qui attribuent cette responsabilité a la classe des intellectuels ».

Un enseignant d’une école primaire a déclaré lui aussi que cette mise en garde devrait être adressée non seulement aux enfants mais aussi à toute personne car, a-t-il souligné, le fait de leur exhiber le préservatif et de les rassurer sur la protection contre tous les conséquences qui découlent des rapports sexuels.

Pour les religieux, la méthodologie semble compliquée et exagérée. « Pourquoi ne pas expliquer aux enfants que le libertinage sexuel est une mauvaise conduite qui est contraire à la loi divine ! Ne faillait-il pas les convaincre que non seulement les rapports sexuels entraînent des conséquences indésirables affectant leurs avenir mais aussi ils empêchent d’observer le 6ème commandement de Dieu » à fait constater un religieux protestant trouvé en cours de route dans le District de Nyamagabe qui à décliné de donner son identité.

De retour vers Huye, en taxi minibus était assis à coté de moi un agent d’une ONG oeuvrant dans le District de Huye qui, tout en regardant le panneau publicitaire sur lequel figure le slogan « n’attends pas, apprends-moi à utilise le condom » a murmuré « finalement où allons-nous arriver ? Comment oser dire à mon enfant, voilà le condom, voilà comment l’utiliser, est-ce que je vais lui expliquer en théorie ou en pratique ? Vraiment notre société devient de plus en plus occidentalisée ! Nos enfants acquièrent beaucoup de choses avec les films, la télévision et surtout l’Internet. Seulement, a-t-il poursuivi, cette campagne devrait commencé à l’école, dès le bas age avec une méthodologie appropriée. Elle devrait être faite étapes par étapes selon les niveaux d’age. Pour moi, il est difficile pour un parent d’improviser ».

Une femme, à coté de lui, répliquait : « la campagne vaut la peine, mais les parents se trouvent inquiets croyant que le fait de montrer ces choses serait une façon de les corrompre et les inciter à la curiosité de passer à l’action ».

Il est donc nécessaire de sensibiliser et d’éduquer la population à l’usage du préservatif car la majorité des personnes interrogées, surtout en milieu rural ne connaissent que par des rumeurs, l’utilisation du préservatif. Aussi, faut-il penser à un programme scolaire pour éduquer les jeunes, dès le jeune âge, en matière de sexualité. En outre, tel que certains parents l’ont affirmé, l’abstinence est le moyen le plus efficace de se protéger contre tous les maux.

Frustrated in Kigali

May 20th

Off to Kigali with Cathie. We want to get the 8.00 SOTRA bus but find it isn’t running today. No explanation, just a bloke with a lollypop in his mouth outside the booking office, which is locked and deserted. The usual ATRACO express buses are fully booked till 9.00 and we don’t want to wait an hour, so we cram into a stopper which fiddles around the bus park for ten minutes desperately trying to find customers. It’s a slow run to Kigali, but at least we’re not too cramped and it’s cheap. We get dropped at Nyabogogo bus depot; Cathie goes up to Mu Muji on a moto and I get a second matata to Kimironko and the VSO office.

I’ve got a long list of things to do at the office – travel money to claim, library books and video to return, letter boxes to check, and I want to do some more computer work.

But, of course, the VSO computer still isn’t working. There’s some problem with the power supply and it cuts out every few minutes. You just about get logged on, then it stops working. So no emailing for me; no looking stuff up on line. I might just as well have stayed at Gitarama. Cathie joins me; she wants to do some photocopying (but the photocopier is making unreadable copies), and some printing from the computer (but the toner in the printer has run out). We both sit and fume. How on earth can the office say it’s supporting us when all the reprographics we rely on aren’t working!

I get my travel expenses but not without a fight – why didn’t I go and see a doctor when I had Giardia? Because I wouldn’t have lasted the trip into Kigali Polyclinique, that’s why! Apparently self-medicating is frowned on, even when you know very well what the problem is!

Cathie and I go round the supermarket, then back to the office and the computer still isn’t working. So we have lunch and go back again, and it’s still not working.

However, I’ve found just the right book to prepare my Brain Gym and VAK stuff for the June training course, so the day isn’t entirely wasted.

We go back to Mu Muji and I see if the posh supermarket stocks treacle so I can make flapjack back in Gitarama. It doesn’t.

So we go round a material shop and find a nice batik design in green. We both like the pattern, and the cloth is sold in one size, so we buy it and agree to share it. I’ll get a shirt made up, and Cathie will get a skirt out of the remainder.

By this time Kigali is boiling hot and sticky, and we’ve had enough. On our way to the bus station we pass a street trader selling some nice screen prints; they’re mass produced designs and I’m sure they’re from Uganda rather than Rwanda, but they’re unmistakably African. I like one with dancers because I like the movement in it. We get a good price and we each buy a print. It’s another souvenir I’ve been wanting to buy, like the pirogue I got at Butare museum.

Back in Gitarama the electricity is back on at last, so Tom and I can cook in comfort and I can catch up on some correspondence on my laptop.

We decide it hasn’t been an entirely wasted day – I’ve bought some batik, bought some material for an “African-style” shirt (I’m moving on from the Marks and Sparks style in African fabric…); I’ve got exactly the textbook I want to use to prepare my training session; I’ve got my travel expenses and spent them all straight away! And we’ve got electricity again!

Worst thing about today – the VSO office. I’m going to stir things at the Volunteer Committee meeting in June!

Slow weekend in Gitarama

May 17th-18th

Well, I had intended to be away travelling somewhere this weekend, but things don’t always work out as you intend! The original idea was for Soraya and I to travel East to Épi’s and see what her school at Gishanda looks like. But a combination of Épi not answering her phone and Soraya dithering till the last minute meant that in the end Soraya met Épi in Kigali while I was busy training teachers at Mushushiro and they went and did their own thing while I was left behind!

So I spend Saturday morning working on my statistics presentation. It’s now completely different from the one Mans did for his district; it contains 20-odd photos to illustrate points and a lot of colourful charts. I think it looks good; I just hope I haven’t made any obvious clangers so that the primary heads can pick holes in one little part and then dismiss the whole thing!

In the afternoon both Tom and I are at a loose end, so we go to watch Muhanga play football in the big stadium. Muhanga is a newly formed team; they are in the second division (you mean that Rwandan boasts two divisions….!), but it is free admission. Of course, we’re the only muzungus in the stadium and for a lot of the street children who gather to watch the free entertainment we are more of an interest than the game. They crowd around us, backs to the game, oblivious of all the fouls and showing off on the pitch, and just stand and stare at us for minutes at a time. I can swear I see fleas jumping on one little lad…..

Another bunch of youths are high on sorghum beer or something stronger; they have a drum and are whistling, banging the drum and blowing on trumpets continuously. The sun comes out and it gets very hot; we are in the part of the stadium without shade. Muhanga wins eventually; there’s a big crowd and they all go wild as if the team had won the cup. There’s a sending off, fouls aplenty and in the dying couple of minutes all the players are hamming it up and doing their party pieces for the crowd.

After the game we go for a leisurely beer and then home to cook a meal. Unfortunately, at the flat we discover that the power’s gone off in our building, and because it’s a Saturday we’ll be without power or lights the whole weekend. This keeps on happening and it wrecks the weekend. If we knew we were going to be without power we would organise our time around it, but the cuts just seem random – there’s been no storm lately to cause problems.

So we go out to eat at Delta and have the best “omelette spéciale” since we arrived. Piping hot, big, and with loads of meat in it. It takes a long time to arrive, but it’s worth the wait. There’s been a big wedding reception at delta during the afternoon and we’re wondering if some of the meat is left over from that…..

It’s early to bed because we’ve no lights to read by.

On Sunday morning we go down to Tom’s office before church and get in a solid session on the internet. This is very welcome – emails read, blogs sent, even some pictures posted. Church is much the same as always, but fortunately it finishes early and we get in another hour on line before lunchtime. I’ve been able to post a lot of pictures including all my Shyogwe photos, and re-send them in an email to Holland. So there’s some good coming out of this weekend at last!

In the afternoon I try making pizzas using our oven. The topping works perfectly – a lovely base made from shallots, garlic, tomatoes, peppers, and covered in cheese – but something’s very wrong with the dough. It rises with the yeast, but not enough. I think I’ve got my quantities all wrong, but I can’t work out how. The flour, too, is very heavy wholemeal. It’s edible, but only with a lot of dedication. Definitely a case of back to the drawing board. The oven, though, seems to work well – it gets extremely hot and doesn’t burn through the bottom of the pan.

In the evening we go out to “Tranquillité”; this is becoming something of a ritual. We have Karen, Ulrika, Karen’s two profoundly deaf guests, and not just Christi but all her family who have just arrived from the states. Parents, sister and brother.

They’ve only been in Rwanda two days and already the parents have had stomach bugs! They’ve hired a matata to get them and all their luggage from Kigali to Gitarama – interesting idea. Makes me start thinking again about the logistical side of Teresa and co arriving here in July.

Once again we’re early to bed and I’m completely asleep when Teresa rings. Oh dear, tales of woe from home and I feel completely guilty that I’m not back in England being more supportive. I think the absolute worst thing about being abroad is if there’s a problem back home which can’t easily be resolved. It’s not the practical things that are the issue – you can always find someone and pay them to fix the plumbing etc; it’s the relationships and long-term work related things which don’t lend themselves to quick fixes which cause so much angst.

So I can’t just down tools and rush home, and even if I did I can’t solve most of the problems in a short time; I just have to be supportive from a distance and sympathetic and hope to God everything sorts out before the summer.

Best thing about today – good session on the internet and catching up on myself

Worst thing about today – lack of power in the flat; lack of power to help sort things out at home!

Sunday, 18 May 2008

At last - the complete set of Shyogwe School pictures

This is what a primary school of 2103 pupils looks like, The water tank was built last year with money from Marchwood Primsry School in Hampshire.
This is the block of four classrooms we want to replace. It will take up all of the first half of the Randstad money we have been given.

A rear view of the same block of classrooms. This wall is subsiding downhill to the right. The buttresses are not working, and the wall is dangerous. It's a question of when it will collapse, not if it will collapse.

A close up of the butress in the previous photo closest to Stephanie, the Headmistress. You can see big cracks in the wall, and in fact this buttress has become detatched from the wall it's supposed to be supporting. When you thump the wall with your fist, it makes a hollow sound.

Water tap and trough next to the toilet block. We need more toilets and more taps.

A block of 6 toilets. When the children are at school, a stream of effluent runs from the doors downhill to the left of the picture. You can smell these toilets from 20 yards on a sunny day. There are 14 toilets for 2100 pupils - one per 150. Imagine what it's like during morning break time....... Many children use the bushes around the site, so they all stink, too. There are no staff toilets anywhere on site (for a staff of 30).

A close up of the classroom walls. You can see that the mud bricks are crumbling. You wonder just what is holding up the roof.

This is the only brick block of classrooms on site. These are the rooms built to replace the block which collapsed recently. The school is thrifty - you can see that most of the old roof tiles were recycled and only a small patch had to be replaced with new tiles.

Close up of the new block to show air bricks above the windows. You can see the wooden shutters clearly. Unfortunately this block, like the old rooms, only has windows on one side. Even so, these are by far the best rooms in the school. What a pity they're left one room short so one class is always having lessons outside.

A newish block of mud-brick rooms with a tin roof. This looks good because it's new, but the walls won't last and it's not the long-term solution the school needs to its building problems.

Inside one of the new brick rooms. The furniture is all piled up in the middle of the room for cleaning. I took these pictures during the school holidays. The door is open and the shutters closed - look how gloomy it is inside!

Even if we open a shutter, we don't totally solve the lighting problem. As part of the second stage of the building project we want to put glass in these windows - we'll then have four good rooms.

This shows you what we're trying to replace - one of the old rooms in the school. (For more pictures of these old rooms see second posting from Shyogwe).

Second visit to Shyogwe

The Diocese's contribution: head's office, store room and staffroom starts to take shape
Inside one of the rooms we want to replace. Look at top left to see how jammed in the children are! My visit caused chaos and it got progressively more difficult to keep the children in their seats!

Stephanie, the Headmistress, writing on the blackboard

The other side of the room. This was at mid day on a sunny morning with the window shutters all open. Note the boy's hoop toy safely on the floor in front of his deak!
The little lad on the left is in a uniform two sizes too big for him. These are first years, but the girl on the right must be around 9 or 10 years old

Oops, nobody's sitting in their seats any more. Time to leave them in peace!

Teacher training at Mata and Mushishiro

"Simon Says" in the school courtyard
No, I didn't say "turn around", I said "Simon says touch your toes...."

Cathie in full flow teaching songs

Mobbed by little people at Mushishiro

Training day in Cyeza secteur

Cyeza's green hills seen from Elena Guerra secondary school

Making resources to use in country classrooms by tracing pictures

We trace onto rice sacks because they are indestructible and cheaper than cartridge paper

Cyeza primary school. On my list to visit very soon!

St Andre maternelle

While we were doing a training session at Paroisse St Andre we were mobbed by little children from the nursery school (maternelle). This is a private nursey for Gitarama's middle class, wealthy families. You can see that the quality of uniform is way above that of the rural children!

Mushushiro in May is freezing!

May 16th

Up early (5.30); Soraya’s off to Kigali to sort out first the bank and then VSO ; I’m off with Cathie to the depths of Mushishiro to do our fifth teacher training morning. Mushishiro is an hour out of Gitarama, so we need a proper powerful motor bike to get there. The scenery en route is spectacular as usual, with banks of white clouds lying like lakes in the deepest hollows and slowly rising as the morning sun reaches them.

We go pass yesterday’s school at Mata, and also pass Gisiza primary which I visited but failed to inspect a while ago. The road works are in full swing; lorries full of gravel and heavy machinery everywhere, and literally hundreds of men sweating with shovels. Why pay for more machinery than you really need when Rwanda’s full of underemployed men? Every vehicle leaves a dust trail and by the time we reach Mushushiro we can taste dust between our teeth and our eyes are full of grit even through our helmet visors.

The school is old, big, and unused to muzungus. We get the usual greeting – by the time we’ve taken off our helmets we’re surrounded by literally hundreds of children. They don’t speak to us at first; they just crowd in on us and stare and stare and stare. Then it’s “how are you?” and “what is your name?” about fifty times, followed by handshakes and fits of giggles. As soon as we ask them “what day is it today?” or “what year are you in?” all we get is blank stares and embarrassment.

Eventually we’re rescued by one of the staff and shown to the classroom we’ll be using. It’s made of brick, with a high ceiling. There are lots of windows and at one time it has been a pleasant room to teach in. But it hasn’t seen any maintenance in years. The door’s half off its hinges. Half of the panes of glass in the windows are broken, and in any case the window frames are rectangular but the window openings are arched, so every window has a gap above it through which a fierce wind is whistling. It’s absolutely perishing cold! It’s so windy that we can’t tape posters to the walls inside the room – the draught is blowing them straight off again.

The desks are old and carved with the names of generations of kids. On the floor, the shim of cement is chipping away to reveal bricks underneath, and you have to watch where you put your feet. On the walls are the usual water-stained cards of cartridge paper with English tenses, diagrams of the human tongue, and properties of mathematical shapes. In one corner there’s a 2008 calendar in amazingly bad taste showing the Bush – Saddam Hussein conflict like a Punch and Judy show. I think it must be Chinese.

Mushushiro is a small secteur and we only have about a dozen teachers (two who were supposed to come don’t show up. We wonder if they were ever told which school to go to. We were never told officially; Cathie had to ring round some of the Head teachers last night to get a consensus on where everyone thought the training was happening. It’s just luck that everyone’s come to the same place on the right day)!

The training goes OK; there’s not the enthusiasm that we had yesterday in Muhanga. These teachers are nervous about speaking English, so they whisper their answers and everything has to be repeated, which gets tedious. When we go outside to do teaching games (Simon Says, What’s the Time Mr Lion, Fruit Salad, I went to Market and so on), we get half way through and discover it’s break time. Nine hundred little people make a beeline for the strange sight of adults playing games. So we hastily retreat back into the classroom and do some singing games to a backdrop of windows blackened by curious faces. Cue “You are My Sunshine” and “The Wheels on the Bus….” for the umpteenth time.

Not so many unusual names in this group either, but we can manage a Bonaventure, Philbert, Delphine, Béline and Euphrasée as well as a prosaic John-Peter. Surnames seem to be getting even longer, with Mukakanyamanza, Uwambazamariya and Nyirangirimana.

All good things come to an end, and by three we’re back in town but feeling very tired. I pig out on mandazis for lunch and then fall asleep in the armchair (no mean feat as these VSO chairs are very uncomfortable after thirty minutes or so). I’ve caught a cold from the howling draughts of Mushushiro! Soraya texts to say she’s met Épi and they’re staying over in Kigali tonight, and that she’s abandoning any plan to reach Kibuye this weekend. Looks as though I’m going to have another weekend here in Gitarama; the problem for me, too, is that any of the people or places I want still to go to need a long weekend to make them worthwhile. And with Fridays all committed to teacher training for the foreseeable future it could be a while before I’m free to travel.

Oh well, things could be a lot worse. As I’m writing this blog it’s a beautiful evening outside, Muhabura volcano is standing out clear against a pink sunset and we’ve got plenty of food in the house.

Best thing about today – I’m relieved that I’m not dashing off tomorrow for a hasty and expensive trip to Kibuye.

What's in a name?

May 15th

Isn’t language a wonderful thing! Our macho day guard is strutting all round town this morning in a pink and white tee shirt with “fine pink ladies” emblazoned across his chest. The man doesn’t even speak French, let alone English. I wonder how many of his mates know enough English to enlighten him…….

Over the past two days we’ve done extensive scientific research and made a surprising discovery. At the bakery opposite the flat, if you want fresh bread you go in the afternoon to buy it. The stuff they sell in the mornings is invariably staler, baked the previous day. Yesterday the stuff was so stale as to be almost inedible. I’m joining the ranks of the little old ladies who squeeze one of the rolls to death so they know whether it’s fresh or not before parting with their cash. But his hot, fresh sambosas are really tasty; they’re very more-ish and you can easily eat three at one sitting if your mouth can stand the peppers! Athanasie, the young woman who serves behind the counter, won’t listen to me any more unless I try to order in Kinya-rwanda. But it’s so complicated; there are about six classes of nouns and each class has different agreements. The agreements in Kinya-rwanda are always prefixes. So “I want five bread rolls and five sambosas” is “Ndashaka umugati ‘tanu na sambosa eshanu”. You don’t say “please”, but you always say “murakoze” (thank you) when you’ve checked your change….

Today Cathie and I are off training again, this time to Mata primary school in Muhanga secteur. Muhanga ranges from the outskirts of Gitarama to quite a long way up-country in some of the steepest hills around, and it’s a relief to find we’re not too far away. I go into the office to leave stuff for Védaste, my statistician colleague, and then get a moto. This time the moto arrangement goes like a dream. I know how much the ride costs; I won’t let him try to fleece me; I know roughly where the school, is – I’m in control for once and it feels great! I’m even there before Cathie and have got all my stuff ready before she arrives.

This is a very poverty-stricken area; the children are ragged and constantly sticking their hands through the windows to ask for money or pens, even when there are other teachers in the room. It’s the first time that’s happened to us. Other children, who for some reason aren’t in class, stare at us for twenty minutes at a time through the windows; their faces are pressed against the glass so that their features are distorted. After a while it gets un-nerving.

The teachers this time are a really mixed bag; some have quite passable English but one or two don’t seem to be able to follow the simplest commands. We’re both beginning to get fed up with “Simon Says” and we’ve only done 4 out of 12 training sessions!

What is a knockout, though, are their Christian names. In today’s group of twenty we have Béatrice, Marie Ange, Clotilde, Assoumpta, Papias, Hyacinthe, Alphonsine, Paciphique, Florien and Gelard. Last week we had Dismas, Donata, Librata, Gertrude, Celestin, Fébronie and Salomé (without the veils). Also last week there were Euphrasie, Idebald, Jeanne d’Arc, Auréa, Valens, Spécièse, Liberathe, Agnès, Gratien and Sosthène.

Most of the Rwandan surnames are four or five syllables long and I won’t bore you with many, but, to give you a flavour, today we had Mukarugambwa, Nyirandikubwimana, Mukeshingabire, Mushimiyimana and Ndagajimana. It’s difficult to pronounce any of these without sounding as if you’ve got a mouth full of mashed potato. Maybe it gets easier after a couple of banana beers. But you see why we prefer to address people by their first names!

Training went well today, the best of all the sessions to date for me. What’s made it so good is the weather. At last it’s been raining (all last evening and most of the night), the air is fresh and cool and the mud pools on the roads have drained away in the small hours. The room we’re working in has plenty of windows and a high roof, so it doesn’t get oppressive by mid-day.

The only downside of the morning is that there’s no transport back to Gitarama; we both end up walking about three miles to the outskirts where Cathie gets the only moto around and I flag down a matata coming up from Kibuye. They’re really getting on with surfacing the road around Mata, with crowds of workmen flattening, filling in holes, digging drainage trenches and lining them with concrete and stones. As I’ve already said, this is a very poor and empty little corner of the District; a surfaced road will bring prosperity immediately to anyone living within walking distance of it.

Back at the office Védaste is slogging away, but I’m tired and too hungry to want to stay. I dash back to the flat and get it ready for Soraya, then off to market.

Hooray, the water’s back on at the flat; I’m already fed up with lugging heavy jerry cans around for even the smallest cup of tea.

Tom’s away in Kigali tonight; he’s socialising with a Dutch film maker (called Geert) who’s doing a documentary about the kind of small-enterprise development that Tom specialises in. Poor old Tom, he’s slumming it in the Kigali Novotel. I feel so sorry for him….. Grrrrrrr!

Soraya arrives early, and we go out to eat a whole tilapia fish. It’s the first time she’s had a tilapia in Rwanda, and back home in the Philippines it’s her favourite dish. “Le Petit Jardin” lives up to its reputation for service and we wait for an hour and half for our food to arrive. Fortunately, it’s all worth it when it eventually comes, and Soraya’s a happy bunny especially when we go back home to polish off one of our Gitarama fruit salads!

Best things about today – everything. The training went well, water’s back on, didn’t get done by a moto driver, or lost, ate well. It’s turning into a really productive week so far…..

Worst thing about today – Védaste has got my flash disc. What’s the betting he’ll have shared it with umpteen other people before I see him again on Monday, or that it’s been used in umpteen computers and is riddled with viruses. Oh, and Soraya still hasn’t had her April-June pay sorted out. It seems definitely to be the bank’s fault.

Counting beans

May 13-14th

Not much to report for these two days. Working solidly both days in the office with Védaste, my new statistician colleague. Every time either of us tries to add up the figures we get a different total. So I spend Wednesday going through all the schools one by one just to try to get a definitive number for teachers, pupils and classrooms. Even the total number of schools keeps eluding us. Just goes to show that when you get this big an amount of data, from hundreds of partly educated people, the final result is always a work of fiction rather than anything scientific!

Just for the record, this is our final count and we’re sticking with it even if some of you know better:
We have 109 primary schools
They contain 73,230 pupils
Just under 13,000 children – 1 in 6 - are listed as orphans, (though we strongly suspect many of these are one-parent families rather than true orphans. In Rwanda the definition is vague)
They are taught by 1236 teachers
The school population is growing at 3% a year, which is enormously fast. At this rate it will double in just over 20 years.
When you add the secondary school statistics there are over 80,000 pupils. That’s an increase of 10,000 in one year over the figure Claude gave me when I first arrived!

On Tuesday I not only have a parcel arrive from England in as little as ten days, but the first of my “Guardian Weeklies” arrives. At Last! You don’t know how nice it is to read news from home as an alternative to the BBC African service. I’m sick to death of hearing nothing else but the machinations of devious politicians in Kenya, Zimbabwe and the like. Now I can read all about the devious machinations of politicians in England and the rest of the world as well.

On Wednesday the water goes off. We don’t know why. It’s ironic because just as the water goes off we have the first heavy rain for weeks. Fortunately we have 40 gallons in jerry cans on the balcony for just such a situation. If you don’t mind the tang of plastic in your tea, and you’re willing to wash in a bucket rather than shower, you’re fine for at least four days!

Good things about these days – Guardian Weekly, parcel from home, I’m at last being taken very seriously in the statistical work I’m doing for the District.

Downsides – no water; not able to go to Kigali. Sorry, folks – you won’t be able to get any more pictures from me for another week at least!